This week I have been in Brisbane, Australia on a training course. Yesterday evening, while in a pub with an Australian colleague, one topic we discussed was the Aboriginal community.

My colleague asserted that the Aboriginal community are given preferential treatment, which he has seen with his own eyes. When I asked about general numbers to back up hi assertions, I was told that Aborigines constitute 2% of the Australian population but are given 33% of total government spending. I was informed that this was a simple fact, and had been publicised on the Q&A TV program.

Of course, I chose to immediately pull out my mobile phone and attempt to verify these facts.

The first thing I found out was that the Aboriginal population in Australia makes up just over 3% of the total population.

Next I tackled the 33% claim. It turns out that the figure mentioned on Q&A was $30 billion, not 33% of government spending:

To convert this to a percent, we need to know what the total government spend is in Australia. It turns out to be just shy of $500 billion. This means that our 33% is now 30/500 = ~6% of total government spending.

There's a great article that looks even further into this, and shows that much of the $30 billion figure is money spent on rural communities, not Aboriginals. Anyone living in far out places is entitled to the same basic services as those in urban areas, and for extreme rural locations this is going to cost more. In the end, once these services are removed from the total we're left with about $5.6 billion that is specifically earmarked for Aboriginal communities - or around 1% of all federal spending. Given Australia's history of mistreatment of Aboriginal communities, this seems like a reasonable amount to be spending per year in restitution.

When I confronted my colleague with these corrections to his "facts", he chose to double down rather than accept my claims. First he said that the websites I'd been reading were lying, then when told that they were official government figures he claimed that the government was deliberately hiding their real spending on Aboriginals because they didn't want anyone to know about it. He'd suddenly gone from being misinformed to inventing a conspiracy in order to maintain his view that he was right and I was wrong.